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Patriots vs Ravens keys to the game: Get off to a fast start, for once

Related: Patriots vs Ravens preview: How New England’s offense might find success against Baltimore

New England Patriots v New York Jets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Imagine saying in Week 10 that the New England Patriots’ season would be on the line? It’s certainly the first time we have heard that in over two decades, but here we are.

The Patriots will officially begin the back half of their season with a primetime matchup against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night. This will be the first meeting between the two clubs since last year’s Sunday night game when the 8-0 Patriots suffered their first loss of the season in Baltimore and the world then found out that Lamar Jackson was, in fact, for real.

The Ravens aren’t as scary as they were a year ago and their defense certainly has some ways to be exploited. The front seven wasn’t as dominant as we’ve seen in the past and with Calais Campbell out, the Patriots should be able to continue their success on the ground led by Damien Harris and Cam Newton.

With a strong secondary led by Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, the Ravens are allowing just 223 yards through the air and rank 10th in the league against the pass. With Humphrey likely taking on emerging star in Jakobi Meyers, the Patriots will need guys like Damiere Byrd and newcomer Isaiah Ford to step up.

Contain Lamar Jackson

Obviously this task is a lot easier said than done given Jackson’s ability to extend plays with his legs and make throws outside the pocket. Jackson and this speedy Ravens offense is known for breaking off big plays and with the Patriots run defense one of the biggest holes of the team in 2020, the Patriots will have their hands full on Sunday night.

We saw the New York Jets break off big plays through the air with Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder torching the Patriots’ secondary — one that was missing the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Stehpon Gilmore — on Monday night. Being able to pressure Jackson while keeping enough speed on the field to keep him contained will be key for the Patriots to keep this game in reach.

Get off to a fast start

The Patriots have struggled in the first half of games and have dug themselves in holes early on, which in turn does not allow them to play the style of football they want to. Since Week 4, New England has been outscored 68-25 in the first half and has found itself consistently clawing back into games. Starting out fast can allow the Patriots to get comfortable, run the style of offense that they want to and put the Ravens on their heels early.

Cam Newton is known for upping his level of play when the lights get brighter and when facing a superior opponent. If the Patriots can get going early and he can play with some swagger and juice, they may be able to squeak one out Sunday night. It all starts right at the opening kick, though.

Continue to find an identity for the stretch run

At 3-5, it is sink or swim for New England: the team finds itself looking up in the division and the playoff picture inside the AFC. With the Texans, Cardinals, and a trip to Los Angeles for two games followed by three divisional matchups to close out the 2020 season, the Patriots’ run to try and make the playoffs starts tonight.

A win would build up a lot of confidence heading into Houston next week versus an opponent that the Patriots should be able to handle to try and get back to .500. A loss tonight, however, would pretty much put a wrap on the 2020 season as the Patriots would likely have to win their final six out of seven games just to have a chance at that final wild card spot.

Prediction: Ravens 31 - Patriots 20